For many crimes there is a time period after which the state cannot prosecute a person suspected of it. These statutes of limitations vary widely from one crime to another in Florida, and several different events may extend the time during which prosecution is allowable.
The Florida statute of limitations begins counting at a very specific time. For these purposes, Florida law considers a crime to have been committed when
- every element has occurred, or
- the course of conduct prohibited by the law ends
The Florida statute of limitations begins to run the day after one of those conditions is met.
In Florida, some crimes have no statute of limitations and may be prosecuted at any time. Specifically crimes that are
- capital felonies,
- life felonies, or
- felonies resulting in death
are not subject to the Florida statute of limitations. Additionally, the crime of lying under oath during a capital felony case, sexual battery of a minor, and human trafficking may be prosecuted despite the passage of time.
Meanwhile, all other felonies must be prosecuted within three or four years of the commission of the crime. A first degree felony must be prosecuted within four years, while second and third degree felonies may not be prosecuted three years after the crime.
However, some exceptions to these statutes of limitations exist that can extend the time period by up to six years. In Florida, if the felony is committed using an explosive device and a person is injured, the statute of limitations is ten years. If the crime is a first degree or second degree felony for abuse or neglect of an elderly or disabled person, or if the crime is securities fraud, Medicaid fraud, or insurance fraud, the state has five years to prosecute the case. The statute of limitations is also five years for violating Florida’s environmental laws.
The statute of limitations for misdemeanors in Florida is much shorter. First degree misdemeanors must be charged within two years of the crime, while second degree misdemeanors must be charged within a year of the crime.
In Florida, several exceptions exist that extend or pause the state’s statute of limitations. If the defendant is
- continually absent from the state, or
- has no identifiable place of work or home in Florida
the statute of limitations “tolls” or pauses during that time. However, the tolling does not last forever – the state may only extend the statute by three years in this situation.
Other events may extend the statute of limitations beyond their usual expiration in Florida. If prosecutors allege a crime involving fraud or breach of a fiduciary duty, they may bring charges within a year of the discovery of the crime. Additionally, if the crime is one of public misconduct, a criminal case may be brought against the defendant up to two years after leaving office, assuming the statute of limitations for the crime isn’t longer.
Due to the rise and widespread use of DNA evidence, legislators in Florida carved out another exception to the statute of limitations. For certain sex crimes for which there is DNA evidence, prosecutors may charge a defendant within a year of the discovery of the DNA evidence regardless of any other applicable statutes of limitations.